Getting a tattoo is a major statement. A declaration that someone loves the image or text enough to carry it on their skin for life, no matter what society and future bosses and mom might think.
As cannabis legalization spreads and the stigma starts to fade, tattoo artists say clients are getting bolder about sharing their love for the plant with elaborate ink that’s visible for all the world to see.
“One thing I’ve noticed is that the quality of the weed tattoos people are wanting are improving,” said Sam Kerr, a Salem, Ore.-based artist who’s done a handful of weed tattoos in the past and is booked up for a few more soon.
“People are finally feeling more comfortable wearing this plant,” he said. “Whereas they used to be a small, black leaf silhouette, we are finding people are now wanting to flaunt full colored leaves, buds and entire plants.”
Jeremiah Swift, who’s been a tattoo artist for 12 years, said he’s noticed that 18- and 20-year-olds in his college town of Murray, Ken. still tend to shy away from weed tattoos out of fear that they could hinder their future career choices.
“Most of the ones I’ve done were on older people in their 40s and 50s,” he said. “They seem to be a little more secure and a lot less caring of what anyone thinks.”
Swift recently shared a photo on Instagram of a large weed-themed arm tattoo that’s still a work in progress.
When a client comes in asking for a weed tattoo, Swift said he feels a responsibility to make sure they know what they’re getting into.
“It’s a fact that a cannabis tattoo can reflect negatively,” he said.
Just a couple weeks ago, Swift said he refused service to a 17-year-old (Kentucky state law says anyone 16 and older can get a tattoo with notarized parental consent) because the teen wanted a deer head with the antlers covered in cannabis.
“It’s our job to stop things like that,” Swift said. “Once the world deems you an adult, you can make the choice yourself.”
Where the person wants the weed tattoo is also a factor, Swift said.
“I won’t put anything like that on the face unless they are covered in cannabis tattoos already,” he said.
Swift said it’s not tough for those people to find a tattoo shop that will service them.
But in his view, he said, “I think part of your reputation as a professional is at stake in some cases. And it’s only for their best interest. My outlook on cannabis art more than likely isn’t going to be the same as your future boss.”
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A search for #weedtattoos on Instagram turns up hundreds of images, with those small and subtle shoutouts to cannabis that Kerr said used to be the norm to massive sleeves and rib tattoos that tell a story.
One Bend, Ore. resident who goes by the Instagram handle “marijuanatho_” said the large cannabis leaf he recently got tattooed on his forearm is a tribute to his best friend, Brandii, who passed away nearly five months ago.
“That’s the one thing that brought us so close was weed,” he said. “I’ve never met someone that loved weed as much as I do until I met her.”
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